Flying High in Sumpango and New York City

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To say that New York took a hit last week is an understated…

For those of us who were around last fall preparing for Irene, Sandy was what we expected, and we got off easy that time around. For too many New Yorkers as well as our neighbors to the north and south, that didn’t happen last week. A youtube video of a ConEdison power plant exploding, news of extreme flooding in lower and coastal areas of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island, reports of a devastating  fire that ripped through 80 houses in Queens with little to stop it, a photo a gigantic pool of water with card-deck sized, yellow rectangles peeking up over the dark, murky water (taxi cabs) – these were the scenes we witnessed on a relatively chilly night just before Halloween. While friends and co-workers were stuck in their houses with no power, heat, phone, Internet and in some cases, plumbing, I sat glued to CNN, NOAA and Facebook for any news of the storm.

It was hard to not be there, to not grieve and cope and pitch in and drink wine by candlelight huddle with stranded family and friends, like I have heard so many of my friends and acquaintances did. When people here ask me where I from, I very proudly say I am from New York, and the looks on their faces this week broke my heart. Aren’t you lucky to be here?, they said. No I am not lucky, I am extremely unfortunate, because nothing gives me a greater love of the city than seeing the kindness of my fellow New Yorkers who never pull together better than in crisis. It’s so wonderful you haven’t been affected…, said another. But I have been. How can I not when those I love were in danger, when I am haunted of images of my former apartments (four to be exact) under water, without power or water or heat, and all of the inhabitants living there now. How can life go back to normal? For New Yorkers or for me?

But the great thing about New York City is, for good or bad, it is never down for long. Maybe for a marathon, yes. Diverting time, energy and resources for this “non-essential” activity, no matter how much of a moral or economic boost it would provide, does no one any favors living in affected areas. Rebuilding will take time. I read and hear from friends that it is slow-going, that authorities are perhaps focusing their efforts on getting back to normal a bit too soon, not focusing enough attention Lower Manhattan or most of LI, where most of the homes are without power. I can’t even imagine how the lives of those living there have been affected. My first piece of flesh-and-blood New York came to visit me on Friday, her Tuesday flight was canceled due to Sandy, and it was evidence that life was getting back to normal. Lives do go on, a little bit slower perhaps, altered slightly or greatly, and for those who lost homes or loved ones, returning to normal seems like a distant and unobtainable goal, but we do go on, us New Yorkers, always and forever. And we try our best to never forget.

Thursday was All Souls Day here, or Dia de los Santos, a time for families to return to grave-sites of their departed to share time with them, clean their graves, and remember those no longer with us. It is also a great tradition in the town of Sumpango and Santiago to fly kites to scare away evil spirits and help the good ones travel to the next stage in their journey, heaven if you will. The kites are massive, some spanning up to six meters wide and made out of delicate, centimeter wide pieces of tissue paper glued together to make the most intricate and complicated designs. But with the length comes a certain lightness to them, because if you are going to try to fly an 18 foot kite, it better be light on the wind in order to gain ground.

I couldn’t help thinking of these kites as New York, intricate and delicately laid pieces of power lines and subway routes and planted trees and skyscrapers that come together in a spectacular formation of uniformity, design and efficiency. Yes, sometimes there is no wind and the kites can’t fly, and sometimes they take flight only to come floating back down again, but the ones that take flight, the ones with the proper balance of width, weight and velocity take flight and soar, leaving all the spectators on the ground to watch in awe.

NYC*, you are in my prayers and always in my thoughts. Your resilience knows no bounds and you kindness is without limits. You are far from perfect, but you always stand up again, always fly again. Con cuidado, New York, y todo mi amor, ahora y siempre. 

To donate or volunteer, please contact The Red Cross, who has efforts throughout effected areas up the Eastern seaboard –  http://www.nyredcross.org

*NY-State, NJ, all up the East Coast, Haiti and other Caribbean countries.

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Los Barriletes en Sumpango, Guatemala

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